Thursday, December 31, 2015

The End and the Beginning

The year 2015 comes to a close in four and a half hours for me, from this writing. I expect 2016 will likely slip quietly into existence like the snowflakes that fell and dissolved the day before Christmas last week.

Image courtesy of noppasinw at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Some people believe in looking back, perhaps with their lists of goals or resolutions, upon the previous year, to set new goals, to identify patterns, to start new habits, to find closure.

Sometimes I'm like that.

And some people simply accept that one year is ending and another is beginning, and that the first day of a new year usually feels a lot like yesterday, and that looking back isn't always beneficial or to be recommended.

I can be that way, too.

You know best ... your year, your hopes, your dreams, your ups and downs, your challenges, your goals, yourself.

Will you take time tonight to reflect? To celebrate? To mourn? To remember?

Image courtesy of Pong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Tomorrow will be another new day in another new year in your life. A fresh chance. There are 86,400 seconds in one day.

From where I'm sitting, that doesn't seem like so very many.

Make them count.

Wishing you and yours a very happy New Year's!

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Top Five: Best Writing-Related Articles from December 21-25

5. "Coincidences in Fiction: What You're Doing Wrong" on Helping Writers Become Authors (K.M. Weiland)

Link: http://bit.ly/1U075uG

Coincidence in life is one thing, and even we know that those don't happen very often. On the other hand, coincidences in fiction are an entirely different thing, and you'll want to avoid those as often as possible in your writing. Otherwise, you're letting your readers down. Avoid that error by starting with the tips in this post.

Read ruthlessly through your current work-in-progress (WIP) for coincidences. If you find one, apply (at least) one of Weiland's principles to correct it.

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4. "8 Tips to Writing Unreliable Narrators" on The Writer's Dig blog at WritersDigest.com (Deb Caletti, guest columnist)

Link: http://bit.ly/1Pri92E

Anybody remember reading The Catcher in the Rye in high school or college, with Holden Caulfield walking you through his world? Then you're familiar with the unreliable narrator, which can be a unique approach to perspective in a work of fiction. Check out this how-to article with points to keep in mind as you craft your own unreliable narrator.

Could you make your narrator unreliable in just one way? Catch your reader, and yourself, off-guard at least once.

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3. "7 Keys to Irresistible Plots" on Fiction University (Laurence MacNaughton, guest columnist)

Link: http://bit.ly/1mdvzGe

Think about a work of fiction that made a tremendous impact on you, one that you remember clearly even now. With that in mind, what about it had such an effect on you? If it was the plot, it's entirely plausible that these seven plot elements, or components, are present in that memorable book. MacNaughton even has a great acronym so you can remember the components for future reference.

Which of the seven plot elements will you try to incorporate into your WIP first?

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2. "Does Our Story Have Everything It Needs?" on Jami Gold

Link: http://bit.ly/1NJSXUD

You've got a draft of a story or novel completed, and now you're wondering what to do with it next. There are dozens of excellent writing craft books out there on the revision process, but if you'd like a really user-friendly overview, look no further than this article. Gold has compiled a list of thought-provoking questions under different categories to keep you and your story focused.

What's your favorite "first step" resource to revision?

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1. "15 Inspiring Writing Podcasts to Subscribe to Right Now" on The Write Life (Brianna Bell)

Link: http://bit.ly/1OgnSJJ

With New Year's approaching, you've probably got goals and resolutions on your mind for 2016. What better place to start than with a subscription (or two) to a podcast on an expert writing site for advice and wisdom? You can learn about blogging, grammar and revision, fiction, and much more, all just by listening for a few minutes per session.

How will you ring in the new year for your writing work?

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And that's the lineup for last week, on time this week, with my computer back up and functional again. Chime in with comments!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Meaning of the Season

I don't know about you, but the last couple of weeks have been, for me, some of the craziest in a while.

It hasn't just been the holiday concerts and family gatherings and cookie-baking (a ritual that starts the day after Thanksgiving in my family). It's also been the unexpected things ... the hospitalization of a relative after a health scare, the abrupt and irreversible (and expensive) death of my hard drive, the loss of a years-old friendship.

And it's only been today, on Christmas Eve, that I've had time to slow down and sit down and think about nothing.

And I find that when I'm thinking about nothing, I tend to remember the point.

Image courtesy of Supertrooper on FreeDigitalPhotos.net

For me, the point is that my Savior who lived and died on this earth for me was born, tomorrow, a couple thousand years ago, and in spite of a broken laptop, lost files, cheerful choir concerts, and dozens of cookies, I'm loved, valuable, and so thankful to know that.

What do you know to be true this holiday season? If you stop moving for a few minutes and sit in silence, what resonates with you?

Give it a moment or two to sink in before you race back out to rescue the last batch of cookies from the oven.

Wishing you and yours a warm, cozy, cheerful, peaceful, and very happy Christmas.

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Note: There have been no book reviews the last couple of weeks, in part due to the seasonal insanity and in part due to my laptop's long hiatus. Book reviews will resume in earnest in January.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Top Five: Best Writing-Related Articles from December 14-18

5. "5 Lessons for Writers from Winter Solstice Celebrations" on Writer's Relief 

Link: http://bit.ly/1MyNQCC

Let it never be said that there is nothing writing-related to be learned from the world around you. This post proves that point precisely with quick, applicable writing tips gleaned from the holiday season in which we find ourselves.

What have you learned this holiday season that applies to your writing life?

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4. "8 Ways to Strengthen Your Freelance Writing Business Over the Holidays" on The Write Life (MaryBeth Matzek)

Link: http://bit.ly/22rfTjg

Don't think that just because the holidays are upon you, your freelancing business has to go by the wayside ... on the contrary! This excellent post details more than half a dozen different ways that you can rework important aspects of your business to ensure that you'll be that much readier for clients in January!

What are you doing for your freelancing business this holiday season?

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3. "How to Defeat Your Writer's Block" on Romance University (Ryan Lanz)

Link: http://bit.ly/1PmXrRv

Sixteen people coming for Christmas dinner, pipes frozen or bursting, obscure relatives in every corner of the house, and now your muse decides to take a vacation? Life's too short to let writer's block defeat you this time of year. Turn the tables on it with these great tips!

How do you defeat writer's block? What suggested method have you heard that has never worked for you?

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2. "Writers -- Give Yourselves a Break" on Fiction University (Janice Hardy)

Link: http://bit.ly/1YFcA37

It's the time of year when we start looking back over our accomplishments from the last few months. It's easy to get pretty negative or cynical, though, about goals that we haven't yet met, or intentions that we never got around to, or losses and disappointments we've experienced. Don't stay focused on the negative. This encouraging post will inspire you to look at your 2015 experience through different eyes.

What did you learn this year? What had to happen (be it a positive or negative experience) before you learned that?

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1. "A Step-by-Step Guide to Build Your Author Website" on The Writer's Dig blog at WritersDigest.com (Jane Friedman, guest columnist)

Link: http://bit.ly/1NEZ7VZ

You're looking at making goals and resolutions for the new year. Maybe one of the things on your to-do list is to build yourself an author website, or to rebuild and revamp the one you've got. When in doubt, start here: a user-friendly post full of web design tips by an industry expert. Writer's Digest never disappoints!

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And there, FINALLY, is the lineup from last week, dreadfully tardy due to a hard drive problem with my computer nine (!) days ago. My most passionate apologies to my patient readers!

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Top Five: Best Writing-Related Articles from December 7-11

5. "Fran Wilde: Editorial Marks, Explained!" on terribleminds.com (Fran Wilde, guest columnist)

Link: http://bit.ly/1Z4okhM

Send your completed manuscript away to an editor or proofreader, and you get back ... well, what is it, again? If the editor works the way a lot of us do (spoiler alert!) then it'll be a hard copy of the manuscript, double-spaced, perhaps with coffee ring stains on the dog-eared pages ... and packed with dozens of unintelligible editorial marks. Just what every author wants to take time to translate.

Fear no more! Expert Fran Wilde has the answers. What does the dot inside a circle mean every time it floats into view (in red pen, no less) on your abused ... I mean, edited ... manuscript pages? Now you'll know as you work through your revisions. (WARNING: Prepare for tongue-in-cheek humor and sarcasm.)

What editorial mark have you always wondered about? Where do you think the marks come from? (Be serious or not, as you like ...)

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4. "Character Lists: A Great Way to Coax Your Characters Out of Hiding" on How to Plan, Write, and Develop a Book (Mary Carroll Moore)

Link: http://bit.ly/1NnQqNr

Maybe your fiction manuscript is humming along, and then your main character does something completely out of the ordinary. Now you're scratching your head. What the heck? Or perhaps you've got a plot idea, but your main character just won't manifest himself or herself in your conscious mind so you can actually get the story off the ground. What to do?

Try some free-form, stream-of-consciousness-style writing. This post recommends that you feel out your main character, so to speak, and perhaps even lesser characters too, by letting your imagination and creativity flow and writing down whatever comes to you. If there are conflicting ideas about the character ... so much the better! Real people are full of contradictions!

How do you best learn about your main character?

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3. "Author-Editor Collaboration: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" on The Book Designer (Corina Koch Macleod and Carla Douglas)

Link: http://bit.ly/1RbHNvy

What do you know about the author-to-editor relationship? What's normal? What's out of the ordinary? What can you expect or hope for? What would you be foolish to hope for because you'll be holding your breath forever and ever, ad infinitum?

Here are the answers you've been looking for. Macleod and Douglas have compiled all the need-to-know points about author-editor interactions and relationships so you have a thorough resource for future forays into that necessary (and only sometimes evil) happenstance in the publishing world.

What have you always wondered about the author-editor relationship? If you have an editor, how would you characterize your relationship? (No names, please!) If you're an editor, what's your biggest pet peeve about working with authors?

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2. "How to Write What You Know --- And Then Change the Story" on The Writer's Dig at WritersDigest.com (Sejal Badani, guest columnist)

Link: http://bit.ly/1NnQZHg

A lot of industry experts say to write what you know. If you don't know anything about space travel, you'll have a harder time pulling together a science fiction novel set on another planet. (Though, of course, it can certainly be done, given enough research and passion.) But what if what you know is something everyone in your life will recognize? Or resent?

Try these seven user-friendly writing tips for how to "re-purpose" (Badani's word, not mine) familiar material, perhaps from your childhood or a past experience or a relative's often-told life story, in your work-in-progress.

Which tip leaps off the page at you as a way you could incorporate some of your own experiences into your writing?

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1. "Checklist: How to Write a Query Letter That Doesn't Suck" on The Write Life (Mridu Khullar Relph)

Link: http://bit.ly/1Q98lgW

Nothing like a very blunt headline to catch your attention. After all, who doesn't want to write the ideal query letter, the one that will net you an agent and/or an editor and/or a publisher and/or a publicist right off the bat?

Now you'll have all the tools you need to do just that. Follow the step-by-step advice in this article, which will take you from the subject line of your (probably emailed) query right down through your bio, and your query letters will go from mundane or just okay to well-written and attention-grabbing.

What's your preferred format for writing a query letter? What will you change about your query letter-writing process now that you've read this article?

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An excellent lineup from last week, I think, and lots of material for authors right now. With January and New Year's resolutions on the horizon, that's probably okay!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Book Review: "Instant Happy Journal" (Karen Salmansohn)

Weird is the new awesome.

Re-frame: make a mistake into an opportunity.

When everyone else is a jerk, stay courteous. Let the other person be a jerk.


If any of those lines resonates with you, or inspires you to creativity or list-making or poeming or writing or anything else, then I urge you to pick up a copy of the Instant Happy Journal: 365 Days of Inspiration, Gratitude, and Joy, by Karen Salmansohn.

Maybe you won't walk away from an encounter with the book "instantly happy," but I certainly put it down feeling a lot better about myself on more than one occasion. There's something about writing, long-hand, that makes you verbose, even positively poetic, as you plumb the depths of your unconscious and subconscious minds and get something down on paper.

And the prompts, which include quotes, words of the day, questions, and uplifting lines of encouragement and support, really lend themselves to applying a few minutes of your time to their suggestions.

After all, who couldn't stand to take five or ten minutes to list three things you like about yourself? (Have you really considered it?)

Or to write a letter to an ex who left you especially hurt? (What have you always wanted to say?)

Writing is therapeutic and enlightening. It can be artistic, imaginative, purposeful, exploratory, or inventive.

And if the reward is to get some of the clutter out of your head and onto a blank page where it can't stifle you any longer, so much the better.

Journaling, too, is becoming a bigger and bigger phenomenon, right up the same line as adult coloring books. It's an outlet that doesn't so much force you to think as it does invite you to exist, and to make a note of your existence, on whatever plane you prefer.

I, for one, have decided to buy spiral-bound notebooks in which to answer the daily writing prompts in the Instant Happy Journal so I can continue to use and reuse the book for years to come.

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Author: Karen Salmansohn
Title: Instant Happy Journal: 365 Days of Inspiration, Gratitude, and Joy
Publisher: Ten Speed Press
ISBN: 978-1-60774-824-3
Purchase here: http://amzn.to/1NcATCo

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this work from the publisher via the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Top Five: Best Writing-Related Articles from November 30 - December 4

5. "Tracking Our Recurring Storylines" on Elizabeth Spann Craig

Link: http://bit.ly/1QbBUhP

If you write fiction, and especially if you write companion novels or a series, you've probably got what Elizabeth Spann Craig calls "recurring storylines." These are elements that keep coming back in each book because they're important things to note about the characters, or the setting.

For instance, in the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich, Stephanie is constantly (mis)managing her waistline. That's a recurring story element ... it might not play a huge part in the books, but if in Book 32 of the series (which doesn't exist yet, so don't panic) Stephanie was suddenly slim, trim, and craved nary a single doughnut, readers would wonder.

How do you keep track of those mercurial little recurring elements in your own writing?

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4. "Online Learning Tip: Make the Most of Learning On the Go" on The Christina Katz Writing & Publishing Studio (Christina Katz)

Link: http://bit.ly/1TVypdZ

Writers are always learning. We have to be curious and engaged in our world, or else we'll run out of material about which to write pretty quickly. But we're also always on the move, whether with the kids or friends or on assignment, overseas or stateside ... so how do we fit in time to coddle our need to know more (and more, and more, and ...)?

Check out this post for a couple of great suggestions from a seasoned author, whose tips are nothing if not practical and easily applied. Also, check out the app (and site) called Pocket, which I recently discovered; it enables you to save an article or blog post to read later, when you have time.

What method works best for you to keep feeding your desire for learning?

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3. "Actions vs. Choices: Crafting Better Plots" on Fiction University (Janice Hardy)

Link: http://bit.ly/1OeUShu

Actions versus choices. Seems like a pretty straightforward differentiation, right? Say you're writing fiction. Your protagonist does something because that's what needs to happen next. It's in your outline. (Or in the back of your head, if you're a pantser.)

But what if that makes the protagonist's moves too ... predictable? Fiction writers want anything but for their heroes or heroines to be predictable. Readers who can predict what's going to happen next will quickly get bored and close the book. So what does it take to put a twist on that character action to make it less of a sure thing? Janice Hardy has the answers.

Pick a chapter at random in your work in progress and see whether your protagonist has more actions (foregone conclusions) than choices. What did you find?

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2. "Writing Fiction? 10 Sneaky Overwriting Traps to Avoid" on The Write Life (Daniela McVicker)

Link: http://bit.ly/1OMqbF4

When does your story end? And ... are you sure?

Many writers of fiction actually tend to overwrite more than underwrite. You're worried about word count, so you spend a few extra hundred words here or there describing something in detail ... that doesn't actually need to be described because it isn't important to the plot. Things drag on for pages and pages beyond when the plot has been wrapped up. Overwriting is also called padding, and nine-point-nine times out of ten, you don't need it. Here's an in-depth post on what to watch for in your own writing, and how to correct your course.

Which of the ten overwriting traps is your nemesis?

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1. "9 Practical Tricks for Writing Your First Novel" on The Writer's Dig blog at WritersDigest.com (Jan Ellison, guest columnist)

Link: http://bit.ly/1W3zeE1

Writing a novel? You and a lot of other people on the planet ... it seems like everybody wants (or intends) to write a book someday. But what is it that will set you apart from the rest? Here are ten lines of advice on the subject, and they don't just apply to writing your first novel. (Hey, if you've got one under your belt, why not make the second even better?)

Of course, Ellison's fantastic guidance begins with the real key that underlies everything else for a successful novelist: you must finish. That's first. Start with that.

Which practical trick for writing your novel had you heard before? Which hadn't you heard? Which did you need to hear today?

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That's the lineup for last week. This post is in a slightly different format than usual. I'm testing the theory of a little longer blurb about each article, plus questions to get you thinking. What do you think of the new format? Drop me a line and let me know!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Book Review: "Christmas Confessions and Cocktails" (Vicki Lesage)

Like your Christmas celebration centered around important relationships, light humor, and a snazzy collection of cocktail offerings?

Say no more!




Author Vicki Lesage, once American and now Parisian, has recently seen released her holiday memoir Christmas Confessions and Cocktails, written in much the same vein as her Confessions of a Paris Party Girl and her Confessions of a Paris Potty Trainer memoirs.

With the holiday season descending rapidly upon us (just 22 days until Christmas as of this posting!) it may be that you're looking for a timeout from the insanity. Or perhaps you need a lighthearted gift for a book-loving friend or family member.

Lesage's memoir fits both bills beautifully.

Written with her trademark self-deprecating sense of humor, this collection of Christmas-themed personal essays hits all the right notes: witty, poignant, sweet, nostalgic. The writing is clean and streamlined, without a lot of fussy details to distract from the homey messages.

And who doesn't love cocktails? Each personal essay is followed by a quick, easy-to-make cocktail recipe, thematically appropriate to the story that preceded it. (You can enjoy the book without making the cocktails, of course, but even the recipes contain glimpses of Lesage's humor).

From celebrating Christmas with your pets to the importance of sharing the season with the people who matter most, and from more obscure family traditions to the laugh-out-loud entertainment of enjoying the holiday in an apartment the size of a postage stamp, the work will keep you chuckling, sighing, and loving your way through, cover to cover.


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Author: Vicki Lesage
Title: Christmas Confessions and Cocktails
ISBN: 978-1-51503-757-6
Purchase here: http://amzn.to/1MZE9Ro

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this work from the author in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Book Review: "Writing 21st Century Fiction" (Donald Maass)

What makes a work of fiction written in the modern day --- the twenty-first century, that is --- worth reading? What makes some novels instant bestsellers with tremendous followings, and others just "good" or "okay"?

Industry expert Donald Maass has studied the subject, being a writer and literary agent himself, and has answers to these questions.



You'll find those answers in his nonfiction book on the craft of Writing 21st Century Fiction from Writer's Digest Books, themselves an industry leader in all things related to writing.

I always learn something when I pick up a nonfiction writing craft book, whether about plotting or characters or dialogue or setting or description or comma placement (hey, it's happened before).

Rarely have I ever picked up a writing craft book that I so immediately and completely connected with and understood implicitly as being packed with guidance and wisdom absolutely crucial to improving my writing.

Writing 21st Century Fiction is an example of the latter.

I inhaled the book from cover to cover. Every chapter offers practical tips on how to transform your novel from good to breathtakingly compelling. To illustrate his points, Maass includes excerpts from actual novels, already on the market and spectacular in their own respective rights and categories, making it easy to comprehend what he recommends.

And he's quite forthright about his intentions. His suggestions are designed to help make authors' novels the best they can possibly be, but the tips are, in the end, just that: suggestions. He makes nothing a requirement or demand, and yet by the time I was finished reading, I saw the wisdom of nearly everything he recommended.

If you write fiction in any genre, whether commercial or literary, there are probably fewer than five writing craft books I would require you to read (on the off-chance that you were, say, a creative writing major in my graduate-level course on the subject). Writing 21st Century is one of the ones that makes the short list, in my admiring and enthusiastic opinion.

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Author: Donald Maass
Title: Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling
Publisher: Writer's Digest Books
ISBN: 978-1-59963-400-5
Purchase here: http://amzn.to/1XIvJRm

Disclaimer: The opinions I have expressed are my own.